Wednesday, November 28th, 2012

Reminder: SantaThing Signup Closes November 29, 4 p.m.!

Quick reminder: signup for SantaThing 2012 closes at 4 p.m. EST tomorrow, Thursday November 29th!

Go here to sign up, or feel free to browse the list of Santas and make suggestions!

Also see the Talk thread where generous LTers are sponsoring others so that they can participate in SantaThing this year.

Labels: santathing

Monday, November 26th, 2012

November SOTT & author interviews

This month’s State of the Thing, LibraryThing’s monthly newsletter of features, author interviews and various forms of bookish delight, should have made its way to your inbox by now. You can also read it online. It includes a reminder about SantaThing (signups continue through November 29, so head right over to the SantaThing page to join the fun!), as well as author interviews with Jon Ronson, Nancy Marie Brown, Jon Meacham, and Christopher Bonanos.

I talked to Jon Ronson about his new book Lost at Sea: The Jon Ronson Mysteries, just out from Riverhead. Some excerpts:

For those who haven’t had a chance to read it yet, give us the nutshell version of Lost at Sea. What’s the thread that ties these twenty-two short pieces together?

These are funny, sad stories about people lost at sea, trying to make their way through the world. Sometimes they reach for crazy ideas to get them through, sometimes horrifying ideas, sometimes silly ideas, sometimes even inspiring ideas. I see this as an empathetic book about people spiraling out of control.

They sometimes feel like adventure stories. I get into some dangerous scrapes. Other times they feel like mystery stories: there are actual mysteries that need solving. Sometimes the mystery is, Why does this person believe this crazy stuff? Or, Why does this person act in this baffling way?

There’s a Christmas-themed town in Alaska where every day is Christmas and the kids have to be Santa’s elves. A bunch of them were recently arrested for being in the final stages of plotting a school shooting. There’s a real-life superhero who dresses in a supersuit of his making and breaks up gangs of armed crack dealers in the dead of night. I went along with him. It was terrifying. There’s a billionaire filtering her money into creating a robot version of her real-life partner that she’s convinced is about to burst into spontaneous life. I interviewed the robot. And so on.

How much follow-up do you do on your stories? Do you keep in touch with folks you’ve profiled? Once you’ve finished writing, do you move on to other projects?

I like to keep in touch—I’m never happier than when people from my stories appreciate how they’ve been portrayed. That doesn’t always happen. I’ve stayed in touch with maybe half the people in my books. Just today I corresponded with two of them: Phoenix Jones, the real-life superhero, and Mike Coriam, the father of Rebecca Coriam. Hers is the title story of the collection. Rebecca was a young woman who worked on the Disney Wonder, a cruise ship. She went missing on it one day—she just vanished. The Coriams have had no luck trying to find out what happened. They feel they’re hitting a brick wall. I went on a cruise on the ship to learn what I could.

If you could interview or profile one person you haven’t had the chance to talk to, who would it be? What would you want to ask?

Right now—and this is unusual for me, because I’m not so interested in writing about famous people—David Bowie. He seems to have retreated from the world. He’s barely been seen for six years. I would love to know why, and would like to ask him to reflect on his life.

Read the rest of our interview with Jon Ronson.

I also had the chance to talk with Nancy Marie Brown about her new book, Song of the Vikings: Snorri and the Making of Norse Myths (Palgrave Macillan). A few teasers:

What were some of your favorite books as a child?

The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien are probably first on that list. I also loved C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, T.H. White’s The Once and Future King, and Ursula K. LeGuin’s Earthsea Trilogy. I’ve had a very pretty edition of Tennyson’s poems since sixth grade—but I’m afraid I like it more for its fake leather binding and slipcase than because the poems resonate. In high school I discovered Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (probably in Tolkien’s translation), and that was my entry into studying medieval literature.

What’s your home library like? What sorts of books would we find on your shelves?

My whole house is a library—my husband, Charles Fergus, is also a writer—so it depends which floor you are on. The basement holds our general fiction, poetry, fantasy, and science fiction collections. In my husband’s office is mostly nature and science. Upstairs is the general nonfiction collection and a small collection of children’s books and young adult novels, which I’m studying to learn how to write one. My office is taken over by Icelandic literature (both modern and medieval, in English and Icelandic) and books about Scandinavia, Vikings, folklore, medieval literature and scholarship, and travel (mostly to Iceland and northern Europe).

Read the rest of our interview with Nancy Marie Brown.

My third interview for November was with Jon Meacham, about his new biography Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power, out this month from Random House.

As part of your research process, you spent a night in Jefferson’s bedroom at Monticello. Can you tell us about that experience? What insights did you gain from being there that helped you understand the man better?

I was struck by the play of light in his rooms. The sun strikes his chambers first, and he always woke at first light—a sign of his constant engagement with the
world, and of his endless energy.

You write in the Epilogue about Jefferson’s legacy, and about how he has, over time, “provided inspiration for radically different understandings of government and culture.” What is it about the Founders in general, and perhaps Jefferson in particular, which has lent itself to such wide-ranging interpretations? What do you see as some of the most common misconceptions of Jefferson’s philosophy or positions today?

Jefferson represents the best of us and the worst of us—our highest aspirations and our most disappointing failures. It’s easy, then, to find ourselves in a kind of
conversation with him as we look to the past for inspiration and for instruction. I think the most stubborn misconception about him is that he was solely a man of ideas. My view is that he was at once a philosopher and a political realist.

If you had the chance to interview Jefferson, but could only ask a single question, what would it be?

What is your greatest regret?

Read the rest of our interview with Jon Meacham.

Last but not least, I was able to chat with Christopher Bonanos about his book Instant: The Story of Polaroid (Princeton Architectural Press).

How did this book come about? What first got you interested in the story of Polaroid?

I was always a Polaroid shooter, from my teenage years, when I got a secondhand camera. (A Model 900, from 1959, marked $5, bargained down to $3.) And when Polaroid film was discontinued for good in 2008, I wrote a little magazine story that led me to the story of the company’s rise and fall and rebirth, and Land and his extraordinary invention. You find a good story with an amazing central character, and if you’re a writer, you start to think “that’s a book.”

Tell us about your research process: what sources did you find most useful? What was the most surprising thing you learned?

Polaroid’s archive contains a few million documents and photos, and during the company’s bankruptcy, the whole pile went to Harvard Business School’s Baker Library. The person in charge of it, a librarian named Tim Mahoney, is going to spend his whole career on this one collection, it looks like, and the first tranche of it came open to researchers around the end of 2009. So in January 2010, I started logging a lot of time there. Also, the company’s museum collection (prototypes and such) went to the MIT Museum, where I also did quite a bit of digging. And then a lot of the extraordinarily smart people Land hired are still around, and I spoke to lots of them.

Surprising things I learned: Polaroid kept everything. EVERYTHING. In the company’s early days, Land had been involved in a patent dispute, and after that, each idea was disclosed, signed, witnessed, and dated. I’ll tell you, there’s nothing like those files when you’re trying to figure out how an invention got off the ground.

Another big surprise: Land made a point of hiring woman scientists, which was highly unusual back then. He was friends with an art-history professor at Smith College who would recommend his smartest students, and Land would scoop them up every year. A lot of them were, as you’d expect, art-history majors, and he’d send them off for some chemistry classes and build his own scientists that way. It was an end run around the usual pool of graduating talent, and it also made those women extremely loyal. A lot of them stayed at Polaroid for decades.

You’re something of a Polaroid enthusiast yourself, I understand? How long have you been using Polaroid cameras? Are you still using them today?

I started shooting as a kid, though that camera is no longer useful: it uses a film format that’s out of production. But I do carry another camera (Model 180, for the cultists) with me every day, and I try to shoot my son at least two or three times a week. I’ve been keeping an album since he was born, and I have to assume he’s one of the very last kids who will be documented that way. (I take plenty of digital photos of him, too, of course.)

Read the rest of our interview with Christopher Bonanos.


Catch up on previous State of the Thing newsletters.

If you don’t get State of the Thing, you can add it in your email preferences. You also have to have an email address listed.

Labels: author interview, state of the thing

Tuesday, November 20th, 2012

Add events to LibraryThing Local, Give books to needy readers!

Short version:


Long version:

For every bookstore and library event added to LibraryThing Local from now until January 1 April 4, 2013, LibraryThing will donate up to 15 cents to put books in the hands of the needy.

Adding events is easier than ever. To add events go to LibraryThing Local and choose “Add event” there or under a specific venue (bookstore or library).

In addition to manually entering events, programmers can also use our new Add Events API (also see blog post) to add events by the hundreds. Go ahead, cost us millions.

Price list.

$0.15   Manually-added event with author and work touchstones
$0.05   Manually-added event with no touchstones
$0.04   Automatically-added event with working author and work touchstones
$0.02   Automatically-added event without touchstones

We’re only going to count events added to real-world bookstores and libraries, and the events must be future events, not past ones. Events can be in any country.

What happens after January 1 April 4? We don’t know. If it’s a success, we’ll probably keep doing this.

Where Will The Money Go? We need to find a good place for the money to go, and ask for help finding one—or creating our own project from the ground up. Some projects that inspired us include:

  1. Buy India a Library, which, builds and staffs a library in a poor part of India (see my friend Andromeda Yelton’s YouTube video about it, another friend, Justin Hoenke is also involved).
  2. One Library at a Time, responsible for creating two libraries in Panama and starting another in Ghana.
  3. Libraries Without Borders

There must be many more. I’m also interested in South Sudan, where LibraryThing member johnthefireman works.

Come discuss where we should spend the money on Talk here.

Why we’re doing this. LibraryThing Local has been a success, but mostly as a way for members to mark and broadcast their favorite bookstores and libraries.

LibraryThing Local Events originally included some automatically-added events, especially a full event feed from Booksense/IndieBound, but IndieBound eventually decided to stop providing event feeds to sites like LibraryThing after booksellers complained that their events were being, yes, listed on the web. (Really.) Meanwhile, automatic feeds from some other sources foundered on the lack of a good way for members to filter out low-interest events, such as daily storytimes.

All-in-all, events have suffered. The fewer events showed up, the less attractive the events system seemed. LibraryThing members continue to curate and improve the system constantly (with over 4.6 million edits to Common Knowledge, 3.4 million work combinations and separations, etc.), but events have lagged behind.

Meanwhile, LibraryThing has become a profitable company (clap, clap, clap). We’re not wildly profitable, and are spending most of our money on hiring new people, but I feel it’s important to give something back the moment we can do so. Staff and members have long wanted to help build a library in a poor country, or for a disadvantaged population. As someone said, “what you can do, you should do.” We can do this.

But if we’re going to do it, why not get members involved–improving the site for all and “buying into” the charitable project?

The Fine Print. Events added to LibraryThing Local, whether manually or using the Add Events API must be connected to a unique LibraryThing account and conform to the the LibraryThing Terms of Service. The addition of spurious, spam or any other non-events is not permitted, will not count and may result in the suspension of your LibraryThing account. If event quality suffers, we may have to adjust what qualifies. What events qualify is up to our sole and final discretion.

LibraryThing shall determine how the money will be spent, when and where. We are setting an initial, optional limit of $1,000 per member and $5,000 overall, just in case someone figures out how to add 500,000 events we didn’t know existed.

We reserve the right to modify the fine print at any time, and to cancel the program as well.

We are giving ourselves legal leeway here. We want no basis for getting sued. But if we scrooge this up, you are encouraged to excoriate us for it everywhere you can.

Come discuss the feature in general here.


Image of coins courtesy Flickr user freefotouk (Ian Britton).

Labels: events, fun, gifts, librarything local

Monday, November 19th, 2012

LibraryThing Local Events upgrades

We’ve been making some changes to how events are added and displayed in LibraryThing Local. The big change is a simplified way to add events: the old system, involving picking authors, picking books and characterizing the event (“X reads from Y”) is out, replaced by a simple description box, but with the ability to add touchstones, just like on Talk.

To add events, go to the venue page or just go to “Add event” http://www.librarything.com/local_add_v2.php

The goal is simplicity. The new interface requires less—some people will just paste descriptions in. But events are primarily about what’s going on near you, not finding out where in the country so-and-so is speaking next month. If you use touchstones, however, it creates the links and puts the events on the author’s LibraryThing page, which is handy.

Here’s what it looks like:

Come discuss in the Talk thread.

Events added under the new system can also include a cover image (it will display the most popular cover of a work touchstoned in the event description):

And finally (though there’s more coming soon!), there’s now a way to filter out events you don’t want to see or aren’t interested in (by author, store, or keyword).

When you mouse over the event, clicking on the “x” leads you to a list of options. Basically, you can filter out the event, the venue, or any events with certain words in them (eg., “storytime”). You can set your event filters at http://www.librarything.com/editprofile/local (the “Local” option under “Edit profile and settings.”). Come discuss here.

Stay tuned for some more news on LT Local and events soon!

Labels: events, librarything local, new feature, new features

Thursday, November 15th, 2012

SantaThing 2012: Play secret Santa to a book lover!

We are delighted to announce the sixth annual SantaThing!

What is SantaThing, you ask? SantaThing is Secret Santa for LibraryThing members. Go ahead and sign up now.

The idea is simple. You pay into the SantaThing system (choose $15, $20, $25, $30, $35, or $40). You play Santa to a LibraryThing member we pick for you*, and choose books for them. Someone else (secret!) does the same for you. LibraryThing does the ordering, and you get the joy of giving AND receiving books!

You can sign up as many times as you like, for yourself or for someone else. If you sign up for someone without a LibraryThing account, make sure to mention what kinds of books they like, so their Secret Santa can choose wisely.

Even if you don’t want to be a Santa, you can help by suggesting books for others.

Important dates:

  • Sign-ups close Thursday, November 29 at 4pm Eastern time. Shortly afterwards, we will tell you who you are matched up with by sending a profile comment and you can start picking books.
  • Picking closes Thursday, December 6th at 12pm Eastern time. As soon as the picking ends, the ordering begins, and we’ll get all the books out to you as soon as we can. There’s no guarantee that we’ll have books to you by December 25th, but we’re going to do our best!

> > Go sign up to become a Secret Santa now!

The details. Every year we tweak SantaThing a little. This year we’re thrilled to be able to involve Portland’s own Longfellow Books as one of the bookstore choices. We’ve also adjusted the payment levels given the demand from last year, adding $35 and $40 options and removing the little-used $10 option (it also proved very difficult to find a book that hit that price point well). Like last year, though, you choose to pay what you want: if you pick $15, for example, someone will pick $15 worth of books for you. Choose $30, and someone will pick $30 worth of books for you.

If you choose the $15, $20, or $25 options, you can choose to have your books picked and sent from Powell’s Books, Longfellow Books or BookDepository.com. Book Depository ships to the most number of countries (see the full list), but if you’re located outside the UK, they can’t promise that your books will arrive before Christmas.

If you select the $30, $35, or $40 options, you can choose from any of the options above in addition to Amazon.com or its national subsidiaries (.uk, .ca, .de, .fr, .it, .es).**

You don’t need to factor in shipping. There’s also no profit “cushion” built into this for us, although we expect under-orders to pay for situations where the shipping isn’t free. We do this for fun, not money.

We’re allowing folks to request e-books this year, but only via Amazon.com and you must live in the US. We’re sorry to limit it, but last year proved very tricky to manage in terms of rights and availability for e-books outside the US.

That’s it. Go sign up now!

Questions? Ask them in this Talk topic.

Update: As in past years, LibraryThing members are sponsoring SantaThing gifts for others. You can join in the fun here. We love that our members do this: you all are awesome.


*We match members based on the contents of their catalog, thereby matching you with a Secret Santa you share tastes with. In theory. No guarantees.
**Restricting Amazon to the $30 option or higher is necessary because LibraryThing can’t get free shipping unless the gift totals $25 or more.

Labels: santathing, secret santa

Thursday, November 8th, 2012

“The Casual Vacancy” Review contest winners!

Drum roll please … I’m happy to announce the winners of the review contest for J.K. Rowling’s new novel, The Casual Vacancy.

As promised the top three reviews (those with the most “thumbs-up” when the contest closed) win a $50 gift card to Amazon, Abebooks, Booksense, or any independent bookseller of their choice, a LibraryThing t-shirt and a lifetime membership (to keep or give away).

The top three are:

Seven runners up* (the next seven reviews with the most “thumbs-up”) win a LibraryThing t-shirt and a free lifetime membership (to keep or give away).

We didn’t have forty additional reviewers who both wrote a review and voted for others’ reviews, so everyone who did that will each receive a year’s free membership (to keep or give away).

Congratulations to everyone who participated! If you won a membership: I’ve upgraded your own if you weren’t already a lifetime or annual member; otherwise, go here to send your gift membership. For winners of the top prizes, I’ll be sending you a profile comment shortly!

You can read all the reviews here.


* I was actually shocked to find myself as the “first runner-up” (you can read my review here if you like). As per the rules, I am thus a “prize-less runner-up.”

Labels: contest, contests, reviews

Tuesday, November 6th, 2012

November LTER batch is up!

The November 2012 batch of Early Reviewer books is up! We’ve got 86 books this month, and a grand total of 2,279 copies to give out.

First, make sure to sign up for Early Reviewers. If you’ve already signed up, please check your mailing address and make sure it’s correct.

Then request away! The list of available books is here:
http://www.librarything.com/er/list

The deadline to request a copy is Monday, November 26th at 6 p.m. EST.

Eligiblity: Publishers do things country-by-country. This month we have publishers who can send books to the US, Canada, the UK, Israel, and more. Make sure to check the flags by each book to see if it can be sent to your country.

Thanks to all the publishers participating this month!

Lake Claremont Press Archipelago Books Taylor Trade Publishing
Mulholland Books Tundra Books Putnam Books
Ballantine Books Monarch Books Riverhead Books
Pintail Simon & Schuster Random House
Henry Holt and Company Quirk Books Greenleaf Book Group
Stick Raven Press Penguin Young Readers Group Safkhet Soul
Safkhet Fantasy Nilgiri Press William Morrow
Palgrave Macmillan Small Beer Press Grey Gecko Press
Eerdmans Books for Young Readers Bethany House Human Kinetics
Hunter House BookViewCafe Plume
PublicAffairs Penscript Publishing House JournalStone
Prufrock Press McFarland Black Threads Press
Glagoslav Publications Ltd. Booktrope MSI Press
Alluvion Press Orbit Books

Labels: early reviewers, LTER

Monday, November 5th, 2012

New ways to slice books by tags

LibraryThing members have added more than 91 million tags. It’s a truly unique repository of how real readers think about their books—the only sizeable bookish “folksonomy.” To bring out more in that data, I’ve added three new ways to slice the books for a given tag—sorting by a weighted proportion, recent popularity and recent publication.

Come learn more and talk about on Talk.

Labels: new features, tags

Monday, October 29th, 2012

Job: Systems Administrator and/or Hacker

Work anywhere!

Or work here!

You may never meet these fine people!

Brian Stinson, LibraryThing’s sysadmin is moving on–he’s landed a job working for Kansas State University, where he’s getting a Political Science degree. It’s a great move for him. We’re sad to see him go–and we need someone to step into his shoes!

The Job: Part-time Sysadmin or Full-time Wizard?

After all the good work by Brian and John before him, and with support from our our programmers, Mike Topper, Chris Holland and Chris Catalfo, LibraryThing’s systems administration is no longer a full-time job. Brian worked part-time.

So we’re looking to fill either:

  • Part-time sysadmin
  • Part-time sysadmin, part-time PHP programmer

As one of our programmers, Mike, has sysadmin experience, the proportion of sysadmin-ing may be as low as 25%. But you need to be able to handle more than that.

Systems Administrator

Qualifications: We’re looking for someone with broad systems administration experience, who can quickly pick up unfamiliar technologies, diagnose problems and keep everything running smoothly. You need to be calm under pressure, cautious and an excellent communicator. We’re a small team, so when things break at 4am, you need to be available.

Work Anywhere. LibraryThing is “headquartered” in Portland, Maine, but the servers are in Boston and many employees are in neither. We never even MET our last sysadmin—John in Tasmania.

Experience: Applicants need considerable experience running websites. Experience in Linux systems administration is essential; we use RHEL and CentOS, but you’ve probably got professional experience with at least half a dozen distros. Experience with MySQL is also important, including replication, monitoring and tuning. You will need to be able to demonstrate experience with remote server administration including lights-out management techniques and equipment.

Technologies. Here’s a partial list of the technologies we use.

  • Apache
  • Nginx
  • Memcache
  • Solr
  • Subversion
  • PHP
  • Python
  • Bash shell scripting
  • Munin
  • rrdtool
  • Xen and KVM virtualization
  • NFS
  • LVM
  • iscsi

PHP Programmer

LibraryThing runs on PHP, MySQL and JavaScript. We also have work for mobile app developers. Basically, we’d love to hear how you can help us.

You can find out more about our programming needs in this older post. If you’re applying as a programmer too, be sure to see and take the programming quiz below.

Compensation

Salary plus gold-plated health insurance.

How to Apply

Email: sysadminjob@librarything.com. Send an email with your resume. In your email, go through the sections of the blog post above, and indicate how you match up with the job. Be specific.(1) Please do not send a cover letter.

If you want to stand out, go ahead and take the LibraryThing Programming Test. We’ll definitely ask you to take it before we interview you.

Another job: We have another open job too, a new position as Customer support for LibraryThing for Libraries.


1. This job is going to be posted lots of places, and that means we’ll get a lot of people “rolling the dice.” If you don’t seem like you’re applying for this job, we’ll ignore your email.

Labels: employment, jobs

Thursday, October 25th, 2012

New feature: your list statistics

LibraryThing Lists is still a “semi-released” feature, but we’ve added a simple statistics feature to show you where your books match up with lists created so far:

If you’re signed in, you can find List statistics here:
http://www.librarything.com/profile/MEMBERNAME/stats/lists

If you’re not signed in, here’s Tim’s:
http://www.librarything.com/profile/timspalding/stats/lists

You can find lists (and create your own!) here:
http://www.librarything.com/lists

Here’s a look at the by-list view:

And in the by-work view:

Come discuss the feature here.

Labels: new feature, new features, statistics